Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Marmite vs. Marmite vs. Vegemite

On the left, Marmite. A Kiwi version of a British yeast spread that is also called Marmite. On the right, Vegemite. A national icon of Australia. Which is better? I have no idea, but the Kiwis are quick to point out an American company owns Vegemite.

They both taste a bit strange to the American palette, like beef bullion, but Marmite is growing on me. I plan to use the powers of Marmite during the race this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

12 Hours of Woodhill

Well, 6 really - i just signed up for the "12 Hours of Woodhill" - 6 hour solo version. I have to ride there, etc so we'll see how this goes ;)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This is ON campus, mind you...

This is the bar and nightclub that are on campus just a stone's throw from my office. (emphasis added for those in SLC)

Auckland Diwali

Diwali - the Indian festival of lights! This has been going on for a few days down at the main terminal in dowtown Auckland. Here are some sights:
People Singing... Kids clamboring...
Transvestite indian dancers and gyrating men...
and masala dosa! Not a bad time... there is hope for humankind!

Biking in the Hunua Range

This weekend I decided to try to get out of the city a bit, at least for a day trip. So after some quick web searches for appropriate places to visit, I settled on journeying to ride the nearby MTB tracks in the Hunua Range. My "how to get there" started at the Orakei train station near my homestay:

My versatile Surly Karate Monkey is paying dividends right now - yesterday this was a city bike, now it's obviously a MTB, tomorrow perhaps a fully loaded tourer? In any case, the train takes bikes so long as there is room and you pay an extra NZ$1.00.

After 40 minutes of stops I arrived in Papakura. I went to visit a bike shop (Ride Cycles) and talked with the friendly store manager. He was fresh out of maps for the Hunua tracks but invited me along on their weekly rides, in which case I would be able to hitch a ride to the MTB tracks. As it was I started off on the 28 km "ride to the ride" through some of the most beautiful farming country around.

Eventually I got to the entrance to the park. From here it was a sweet downhill (on singletrack) to the campground at the base of the Mangatawhiri Dam (BTW - "wh" is pronounced like an "f").
Here's the campground. What are those white dots on the hillside? Anyway, this place was picturesque but as I ate lunch my legs were getting bit up by some nasty black bugs. Aside from that, it would make a wonderful 24-hour MTB site.
I did the "lower Mangatawhiri Loop" after learning that the more masochistically enticing "challenge" loop was closed due to poor conditions. The conditions were fantastic and the track was a blend of 60% purpose-designed singletrack and some roads thrown in for connections. It all ran through "regenerating" native forest of spindly trees and huge tree-like ferns. A handful of river crossings were thrown for good measure.To keep the clay from ruining things the trail builders hauled in TONS of road base rock that had already blended into a buffed trail. Amazing. Some pics follow:
A river crossing amongst the ferns.

Lot of places to take a dip if it wasn't so perfectly mild.
See that little sign there? With the downhiller icon? They are all like that, giving me the impression that the trails here are all (figuratively) downhill for happy little mountain bikers.

Alas, after riding the 14k loop I was tired but happy. On the way I took some pics of the idyllic landscape:

There were some very orderly cows - they were happily trotting toward a gate while a farmer did tricks on his ATV.
Ah, so there they are! Sheep! Lots of 'em!
On the way back to Papakura I was taken aback by improbable implications of this sign. Fortunately I only had two wheels ;).

For those that care, here is a map of the ride. The little loop in the middle is the MTB part, the rest is on roads getting there. ~75 kms with 1200 m of ascent on the day, not bad! Time for a kebab!

If you click on the header of the above map from bikely a window will open that has a google map view of the ride - choose "satellite" or "hybrid" view to get an idea of what the terrain looks like. You can also export the data to google earth using the "export to kml" option. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Force 3? Maybe 4? Perhaps even a Fresh Breeze?

I went sailing in the Harbour again. The captain's plan was to have a go at setting the spinnaker as practice for racing. There was a race going on as we embarked - these crews had a serious air about them and we stayed out of their way.
Here's an old but pretty boat.
After taking some pics in the marina I put the camera away as the water was quite choppy and the wind was really blowing (30 knots at times? this mean anything to anyone?) Force 4? Perhaps even Force 5? Well, I have no idea. Check out the Beaufort Scale. I did get it back out for the following sign on the bridge:
Fantastic! Only in NZ!

The sailing was rough and a bit nerve wracking at times (water over the railing? not a problem apparently...). We never even attempted to put up the spinnaker. With experience I'm sure these conditions are nothing. With my lack of experience there comes a bit of clarity. I don't really have to think about what to do (my job, hauling in the sheets, is simple) and so I am freed up to think about exactly when one might decide to swim for it. It seems that the answer is practically never. The captain later described what one might do in the case that the main sail goes all the way over into the water (hold on, release the main, and viola! count the crew!)

Back in the slip a story was told about a boat that returned from a recent race up the coast (started on Friday, a fast catamaran took 10 hrs to run 120 nautical miles, most took twice that). This boat was hit by a gust, it went sails into the water, the captain released the main and the boat went back down, all was well. The crew member we talked with remarked that he was impressed with the cleanliness of the bottom of the boat, which he calmly observed while 3m in the air above a horizontal boat.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Foreign Markets

I needed some toothpaste so I went to the only large market I'd found up to that point - a FoodTown near downtown. I've also found that visiting markets is a wonderful way to peer into the everyday lives of the places you visit. For instance, the supermarkets in Cebu, Phillippines were tiny and filled with lots of neato items but had then general feel of an expanded quickie-mart. Contrast that to the carbon market near downtown Cebu City that was as scary a place as I've been. You walk through puddles of congealed blood on the putrid walks no matter how careful you are. Anyway, things here are much more modern.
I found this gem of a billboard on my way to the market. Apparently these women are advertising some TV program. Notice however, the small size of these milk just when compared to the US gallons, tiny! ;)
Here it is! Food Town Downtown! And with, gasp, a pharmacy in the store! That's modern!
Alas, who cares so long as I can get my favorite licorice (made in NZ) for super cheap. This stuff runs US$5 a bag at Liberty Heights Fresh in SLC, here it is less than half of that (well, on sale). I should have bought them out.
Pascal can rest easy, there will be a ready supply of ketchup in Auckland, her favorite brand too! All in all, this NZ supermarket was like a small supermarket in the states, lots of everything available. Check, I'm still in civilization. Can't wait to go for a tour of the countryside to find out what's NZ is like without all of this cosmopolitan homogenization.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trip to Rangitoto

There are a few sites around Auckland that are ubiquitous. If you spend time on the north shores just west of downtown (the central business district, or CBD) then you see the volcanic Rangitoto Island frequently. It popped out of the harbour ~600-800 years ago while the local Maori watched. I decided to spend my saturday hiking around Rangitoto - here are some pics.
You leave Auckland from the ferry docks downtown. This pic is of the ferry when docked at Rangitoto Pier after I got off. I hiked up to the summit first, on the way I turned off to see some lava caves and there were some of these giant ferns (yes, that's a 6m high fern) along the "track" (not path, not trail). I crawled through the caves, of course ;)From the summit you get a wonderful view back at Auckland and around at the numerous islands that surround Auckland. That's another ubiquitous site around Auckland in the picture above - the SkyTower.

Rangitoto was used as a fortification during WWII in case of Japanese attack (as well as just about every other Harbourside hill...) so you see a lot of old bunkers.

I hiked off the backside of the summit (where there is a big inverted cone at the top) to MacKenzie Beach, then around back to the Rangitoto pier. Along the way the red cooler above caught my eye and I went out on the lava shore to investigate. Along the way I found a very nice soccer (err, football) as well! What a scavenger's dream a lot of the flotsam from Auckland must end up here. I left the cooler but Pa. gets the ball when she arrives...

I missed the 1pm ferry back (there are only a few each day, ~10am, ~1pm and ~4pm - if you miss them you have to wait for the next, even overnight it seems!) so I had some time to kill. So I went exploring in a "kidney fern glen" - which was a lovely place with the above plants everywhere and some isolated benches for reading.

Kebab and LandP

Here is the NZ burrito-and-a-coke equivalent, the kebab and a LandP. Yes, that's not a shish-kebab, it's a kebab commonwealth-style. Basically a gyro with some more middle eastern flair and a choice of sauces. It's fantastic. LandP is a local soda you can read about more below (both normal and sugar-free versions, the citymart was having a 2for1 sale ;)

Click on the pics of the fantastically corny LandP ad copy to read. It's worls famous in NZ!Cheers!

Friday, October 19, 2007

On the Right, On the Left

I can report that walking and biking in NZ is almost the same as in the states (one foot/pedal in front of the other, repeat). There is one big difference though, you have to yield to the left, not the right. While this is probably obvious to anyone that knows about the car-on-the-left thing I still nearly run into a few people a day on paths. On the bike I have an automatic left-side of the road, right head-turn down but I'm at a total loss at complex intersections and actually hope for red lights to slow things down. I get a break on my bike commute as I have a nice bike path along the harbour nearly the whole way (about 5k) that is ignored by the serious cyclists sucking diesel fumes on the inland side of the road.

Watch Out!

The pizza here is forged in the fires of Hell. Regardless of your feeling on the matter, it turns out that it tastes quite good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Racing in the Harbour

I went sailing yesterday in Auckland Harbour. The first pic is definitely not us, but this gives you an idea of how seriously people take their casual Wednesday local race. We were captained by the chap in red in the second picture, who did a fine job of getting us all around the harbor, shown below. Incidently, the bridge at left in the picture below (Harbour Bridge) has a sign on it warning boaters of the bungee-jumpers that spring from above.

The Trees!

I love the trees I've been seeing. The ones above are in Albert Park just near the University of Auckland where I work. Their huge, low-lying branches remind me of elephant limbs on a grand scale. There are others, like some really striking pines with sparse branches that silouette well.

Howdy from New Zealand

Hello from New Zealand! This is a picture of the beach 100M from my homestay in Mission Bay. That's Rangitoto in the background, a nature preserve and the most recent island to pop up out of the pacific (600 years ago). I'm told it looks that same from every direction, although I can only report on the view from the west and north so far (it checks out). This pic sums some things about NZ up pretty well, natural beauty, a tree everwhere you look, some cute fixtures and everything is nicely put together so far. I'm loving it ;)